The control of locomotor frequency by excitation and inhibition

Wenchang Li, Peter Robert Moult

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Every type of neural rhythm has its own operational range of frequency. Neuronal mechanisms underlying rhythms at different frequencies, however, are poorly understood. We use a simple aquatic vertebrate, the two-day-old Xenopus tadpole, to investigate how the brainstem and spinal circuits generate swimming rhythms of different speeds. We first determined that the basic motor output pattern was not altered with varying swimming frequencies. The firing reliability of different types of rhythmic neuron involved in swimming was then analyzed. The results showed that there was a drop in the firing reliability in some inhibitory interneurons when fictive swimming slowed. We have recently established that premotor excitatory interneurons [descending interneurons (dINs)] are critical in rhythmically driving activity in the swimming circuit. Voltage-clamp recordings from dINs showed higher frequency swimming correlated with stronger background excitation and phasic inhibition, but did not correlate with phasic excitation. Two parallel mechanisms have been proposed for tadpole swimming maintenance: postinhibition rebound firing and NMDAR-dependent pacemaker firing in dINs. Rebound tests in dINs in this study showed that greater background depolarization and phasic inhibition led to faster rebound firing. Higher depolarization was previously shown to accelerate dIN pacemaker firing in the presence of NMDA. Here we show that enhancing dIN background excitation during swimming speeds up fictive swimming frequency while weakening phasic inhibition without changing background excitation slows down swimming rhythms. We conclude that both strong background excitation and phasic inhibition can promote faster tadpole swimming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6220-6230
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'The control of locomotor frequency by excitation and inhibition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this